8:13 PM EST, February 9, 2012
Once the New York Giants figured out a way to cope with their massive amount of injuries, there was no stopping them this season.
They had a quarterback in Eli Manning who was durable and unflappable and focused. They had a running back in Ahmad Bradshaw who pushed through a painful foot condition all year and still produced. They brought back Chase Blackburn to play middle linebacker and bring their defense together.
Maybe more important than all of the above combined, they never lost faith in their hard-boiled coach, Tom Coughlin, who further proved his worthiness for the Hall of Fame by succeeding in the Super Bowl for a second time against an opponent that has most of its opponents whipped before entering the stadium.
Eagles fans, especially those not in lockstep with owner Jeffrey Lurie's decision to bring coach Andy Reid back for a 14th season, might want to turn their heads away from the page at this point, because the 2012 season figures to bring more of the same for the Giants.
This is not to say they will win a second straight Super Bowl or should even be favored to at this point, because in this era of pro football, winning a championship requires equal amounts of luck and skill. But they figure to be better equipped to go after it than they were in 2011.
Like the Eagles, they have a mostly young nucleus and are not in position to be hit hard by free agency, despite 18 expiring contracts, including Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham's.
Manningham's return is far from certain, but the Giants will have plenty of options to draft a replacement or even upgrade in free agency.
The Giants are still rebuilding their offensive line and their secondary depth. They also face the losses of starting cornerback Aaron Ross and punter Steve Weatherford, who was as a huge factor in their Super Bowl run for many more reasons besides the fact his name isn't Matt Dodge.
However, they have many promising young defensive pieces and a cast of assistant coaches who haven't been raided (yet) and are good bets to be back for at least one more season. This is always a factor when a team wins the Super Bowl. Heck, look at the team they just beat. The New England Patriots haven't been the same since losing offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel following the 2004 season.
Needless to say, optimism is predictably running at an all-time high now.
"If we won it this year, there's no doubt in my mind that we can [repeat]" linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka told the New York Post this week. "We've just got to get in the playoffs. That's it.
"The big thing for us is to get one next year. We had a great season a couple years ago and we had a letdown the year after. We've got to make sure that doesn't happen again."
Added wide receiver Hakeem Nicks: "I feel like the sky's the limit for this organization and our team. I feel like we can be at this level for a long time."
The euphoria doesn't figure to wear off anytime soon, and for good reason: It is a lot easier and infinitely more realistic to see the Giants taking a step forward next season rather than a step back.
Again, this is bad news for the Eagles, whose strong but puzzling program is in a much different place with uncertainty still hovering over their defense, their quarterback and their coach following owner Jeffrey Lurie's de facto ultimatum to win next season or else.
Coach, quarterback, defense. For the Super Bowl champs, those are the biggest strengths, in no particular order.
For the Eagles, those are the biggest question marks following a season in which Michael Vick's career took a severe downturn and rookie defensive coordinator Juan Castillo consistently struggled with play calls, particularly in the fourth quarter.
All of that added up to head coach Andy Reid's 13th straight season without a championship and third straight without advancing in the postseason.
Ironically, the Eagles' last playoff victory came against the Giants more than three years ago.
Now, unless they can win at least three straight playoff games with a quarterback who's only won two in a downward-sloping career, the whole thing could be ripped apart.
Set against the stark contrast of a Giants' franchise that cannot be any more solid, nothing could be more disturbing for Eagles fans.
But nothing is impossible in the NFL. The Eagles could well pass the Giants as quickly as next season, but they'll have to remain open to thinking outside the box that's limited them for so many decades — a move Reid and the organization seemed open to making before the lockout derailed their plans.
Now there are no more excuses.
How the Eagles can compete with the Giants
Five offseason moves the Eagles should make to catch or surpass the Giants for supremacy in the NFC East:
(1) Seriously explore an upgrade (Peyton Manning?) at starting quarterback. If they keep Michael Vick, coach him to make better decisions, especially when not under duress. He makes way too many unforced errors to be a championship QB.
(2) Get better at backup QB (Donovan McNabb?). As long as Vick remains the starter, the backup remains the second most important position on the team. A proven winner is a must here, unless Mike Kafka can make the Eagles think otherwise.
(3) Pay whatever necessary in free agency to upgrade the linebacker position. Drafting someone high is not good enough. There's no excuse for the Eagles not to get better in the middle (Curtis Lofton? D'Qwell Jackson? David Hawthorne?), allowing Jamar Chaney to return to the outside.
(4) Keep WR DeSean Jackson at least another year and allow him to remain as the punt returner. He's proved how great he can be when his mind isn't on his money and even sometimes when it is. Why mess with a sure thing?
(5) Get some different eyes on the draft. This process may have already started with the addition of Rick Mueller as player personnel executive, but that's probably not enough. They have to start hitting home runs with defensive picks in the first two rounds.
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